Amazon’s Multi-State Sales Tax Battles are a Sideshow to the Real National Solution, and the Politicians Know It

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sales taxes that they’re supposed to—and state efforts to get people to voluntarily fork over the money one at a time are predictably unsuccessful. Did you know there’s a form you’re supposed to fill out?

The long-simmering effort to fix the problem is known as the Streamlined Sales Tax project. This multi-state coordinating board is chock full of lawmakers, government tax analysts and business advisers trying to harmonize sales tax laws around the country, making administration more uniform and practical.

For the engineers at Amazon and other e-retailers, this amounts to converting a bunch of different and conflicting tax systems into one source code that someone could use to develop a tax-collecting program. And that would, in theory, make multistate sales-tax collection easy enough that Congress could change the law and allow the system to take effect.

Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for my deadline, but the company has looked favorably on this approach. In a letter to a California state senator, Amazon public policy VP Paul Misener called out the Streamlined Sales Tax effort and wrote that “a national resolution, involving tax simplification evenhandedly applied, is the legally permissible path for states to follow.”

Washington state has plenty of people who have been working for a long time on the project, including Russ Brubaker, a senior assistant director at the Washington state Revenue Department. He’s also the No. 2 officer at the national Streamlined Sales Tax group.

Brubaker says the attention being generated by the Amazon lawsuits and disputes isn’t actually harmful to the Streamlined effort—instead, he says, it could make the issue more pressing for the feds to solve.

“All of the efforts are aimed at the same goal which is to require remote sellers to collect taxes that are owed to the states,” Brubaker says. “The only caution I would have is that, when it’s time to turn and devote all the necessary effort to the federal legislation, that folks will need to do that. And I have every confidence that they will.”

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